Thursday, February 24, 2011

Twenty-six missed calls. Eight new voice mail messages. Forty-five minutes away from home. That was our Friday night not so long ago. After attending the annual Pinewood Derby at out church, my wife and I, stuffed with Sloppy Joes and green beans (interesting combination), decided to drop the kids off at home and spend a little time together. Being the adventurous and romantic couple that we are, we settled on a trip to the local bookstore.

We settled down to our magazines – Country Home and Vogue for her, Vanity Fair and Majesty for me. After sitting in companionable silence for about forty-five minutes, we decided that it was time to head home. It was late, and our boy scout probably needed some consolation for coming in last in every race at the derby. Just judging by my magazine choice, you can probably guess I am not much of a woodworker.

Getting into the car, I usually make it a habit to check my Blackberry to see what important messages have come in since I last looked at it and, generally, there are none. None that are important that is. After work hours the most exciting calls I get are from one of the kids wondering when I will be home and did I pick up any watermelon, or an important message from Direct TV about my bill (yeah, so it’s late. I have three more days until there is any “service interruption”. Calm yourselves.). This night was different. Twenty-six missed calls in forty-five minutes was a lot even for my telephonically adept brood, and eight new voice mail messages seemed to spell trouble. I was right. The first one was from my daughter breathlessly telling me that my oldest son had probably broken his arm. The next was from my father-in-law telling me that my son had probably broken his arm and he was taking him to the emergency room. The third call was from my mother, just letting me know that Jack had broken his arm and that his grandfather was taking him to the hospital and why wasn’t I answering my phone? They continued in this vein.

The most interesting message was from the mother of a girl with whom my son was spending the evening. Of course, he was supposed to be with an entirely different friend, but somehow found his way to the school playground with a gaggle of admiring girls and a jump rope. Now, my son is a bit of a ham, and I have a feeling that with a group of other attentive early-teen females, he gets even hammier. Sadly, his trick jumproping show went south, along with his arm, making a very painful, and rather expensive, contact with the concrete.

Arriving at the hospital, my initial thoughts were about the poor kid and the pain he might be in. My wife was a little less empathic, not entirely pleased that we were at the hospital rather than the ice cream shop just a few blocks away. After seeing our son, obviously in some pain, but stoic to the end, I have to confess I had a little pang of hunger for a Prince Puckler’s sundae, but back to the situation at hand.

In-laws dispatched home, we had some one on one time with our son. Like so many other difficult family situations, it turned out to be a kind of fun evening. I can’t tell you how many great laughs and how many good talks I’ve had at those festive family events like funerals, late night visits to the doctor, kidney stone prompted ER calls or long drives home from the dentist’s office after an extraction. We're just that kind of family.

If there’s any point to this, it’s that some of the most annoying family situations can actually lead to some of the more rewarding advances in our relationships. Having said that, the next time my wife and I go out alone, we are hitting the ice cream parlor first.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Cooky Challenge!

I can remember spending many happy hours poring over my mom's copy of the Betty Crocker Cooky (yes, cookY) Book circa 1963. I don't think I've ever enjoyed a cookbook more, and I've enjoyed plenty. Happily, my own kids have followed suit. I can't count the number of times my seven year old son Harry has brought it to me, always open to the page displaying Candy Cane Cookies, with a suggestion that we make dessert together.

Harry is a chef in the making. He's always up to help in the kitchen. If it includes cracking eggs, his favorite part of the cooking process, all the better. If it weren't for Harry, I might also weigh less. You see, there is no day that passes without the loaded question, "So, dad... What's for dee-ssert?" An answer better be forthcoming, and it also better be something good... and homemade. Tuesday night is probably his least favorite night in the week. You see, Tuesday evening is $1.50 scoop night at the local Baskin-Robbins. Now, Harry considers ice cream to be a perfectly acceptable snack or lunchtime dessert, but certainly not a suitable end to the evening meal.

The Betty Crocker Cooky Book is filled with over 450 cookie recipes. Some delicious, some not so appealing - I'm not sure what it was about dates that made them seem so appealing in the early 1960's. Growing up, just about every Christmas cooky my mom made came from Betty's book - Thumbprints, Petticoat Tails, Spritz and, best of all, Candy Canes. Oddly, although Candy Cane cookies are made to look like the confection from which their name is derived, they are flavored with vanilla and almond extracts. One of the reasons for their popularity was the work that it took to make them - tedious rolling and braiding strips of red and white dough together... dozens and dozens of times. Now, years later, I can completely understand why my mother grimmaced each time I requested them. But, like I do for my kids now, she obliged and made batch after batch throughout the holiday season.

These holiday treats were only the tip of the iceberg when it came to the delights contained within the Cooky Book - Shamrock Cookies, Tiny Fudge Tartlets, Cream Wafers, Empire Biscuits - the list goes on and on. Perhaps the most sought after items were the Merry Maker Cookies. These cookies were a Technicolor tribute to the beauty of baking. Buttery sugar cooky dough divided and then brightly tinted into several shocking colors - blue, green, red, yellow, pink, orange and purple. Each color was rolled thin and then cut into many shapes, layered together to make beautiful designs. My mother, bless her, was never willing to tackle the Merry Makers, and believe me, I begged. My sister, on the other hand, made them for me... once.

And, now, I've decided to take the plunge. I'm going to make those Merry Maker Cookies myself. Not only am I going to make the Merry Makers, I am going to make the Indian Jumanas, the Vermont Maples, the Love Letters... I'm going to make as many of these cookies as I can in the next year. And... I'm going to tell you all about them.

So, cooky lovers, stay tuned for reports and updates. I'm doing this... for you.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

How to bond with your baby, shop 'til you drop and be saved!

We’ve been pretty lucky with the latest addition to our family. Baby Max has been a good sleeper. And why not? He’s got to be exhausted at the end of a long day of, well, sleeping. I guess I should say that we were pretty lucky, because Max has found his inner night owl.

For me, the ideal day would start between 11 a.m. and noon, and last until the wee small hours. I love the idea of morning – the fresh start to a new day, filled with promise and hope, a delicious breakfast to provide energy for the excitement to come – there are lots of nice things about this idea. It’s the reality that I find objectionable. There’s the kitchen sink and counters, filled with dirty dishes even though it was clean when you went to bed, the garbage spilling forth from the trash can, again, clean before you went to bed. There are the pleas for cash from the kids, the permission slips to be signed for field trips never before heard of, the list goes on. As far as the delicious breakfast, if I eat it at all it’s usually a choice between Raisin Bran and Grape Nuts.

Recently, I’ve been able to achieve part of my scheduling goal. While there’s no change in the time I have to be up – someone has to pay for this place – I am getting to “enjoy” those wee, small hours I mentioned earlier. Just last night, Max and I were able to spend quality time together – from about midnight to 4:30…

Max is an adorable baby. He really is. He’s just as fat as you’d want him to be (should I worry about is BMI reading?), he can smile when he feels the need, and he smells divine. He’s also quite cuddly. So, spending this time with him is more of a pleasure than a chore. For the most part, Max doesn’t cry during these times, he sits. He coos. And he makes other sounds that, if I was to make them, would get some very strange looks. Max is basically just a creature of the night.

This nocturnal interlude has opened me up to a whole new world. It’s the world of late night/early morning television. Flipping through the channels I was surprised to see just how many programs require me to enter our parental control access code after about 1 a.m.. Evidently, TV becomes much more interesting at about this time – who knew? And then there are the channels that I want to watch during the day when I have no time – now showing only an endless stream of infomercials. And it’s those infomercials, along with religious programming, that’s most fascinating. Sure, I’ve become somewhat addicted to the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (there is very little that’s real about these women, I assure you), but it’s hard to beat all of the wonderful products offered through the night. So far, I’ve learned that I can totally eliminate several inches from my mid-section with a t-shirt that’s only $19.95 (no more muffin top!) I can also add inches to… oops, let’s skip that one.

There are fabulous products like “tater gloves”, guaranteed to take the peel of any potato simply by rubbing it with your glove. Or, one of my personal favorites, the electric sandwich maker that can do so much more! Evidently, it can make every dish known to man – pies, cakes, omlettes and broccoli and cheddar pizzas (really?) – in 5 minutes or less. Who knew that the plump, peppy little lady who hocks this thing has the secret to the world’s best apple pie – margarine, two slices of Wonder bread, a can of apple pie filling and the incredible sandwich machine, all for only $29.95!

Late night/early morning religion is another thing altogether. Whether it’s the very old gentleman with his pronounced Southern twang or the middle-aged, grey haired ladies sitting around the dining room table on a set decorated in shades of misty blue and dusty rose, here’s the answer to all the world’s problems! At least, if you’re willing to spend a little. That’s right - you, too, can be saved for only (insert amount depending on quality of cable channel). While the geriatric minister and women wearing bunny sweaters and comfortable shoes charge on the lower end, the more charismatic programs ask for a lot more. Take the preacher who gave a sermon about his love of the Fed Ex truck. He get’s so excited every time he sees a Fed-Ex truck! And why not? According to the good reverend, at some point in the recent past he sent $1000 to a church of some sort (I’m guessing his own) and, as a result, he has received an endless stream of unexpected money each week for months! There he is, sitting at home, no doubt preparing next week’s message, and the doorbell rings. Who can it be? Why, it’s the Fed Ex man, and here’s another envelope containing $10,000, $20,000, even $30,000! Because of that $1000 in “seed money”, he now finds himself “favored” by God! For only $1000 I, too, can be “favored” by God! If I call and pledge NOW, I will receive 90 days of financial good fortune!

Although I haven’t taken advantage of any of these special offers, and in all cases we are assured that these offers are “special” - only good for the next 20 minutes or 20,000 callers, whichever comes last - I am guessing that they don’t live up to their promises. In the dark of night we are willing to believe in a lot of things that wouldn’t hold up in the cold, hard light of day (refer back to the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills). But, it doesn’t really matter. Someday, Max will grow up and move away, but… we’ll always have the Sham-Wow.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

What a life!

For the many people who’ve been kind enough to read my many ramblings over the years, you know that I try to keep things pretty light. It’s not that I am a shallow person, I’ve got loads of political diatribes on my hard drive just waiting to see the light of day, and I have a few treatises on the nature of God and religion, too. But, I think attempts at humor are more entertaining. Having said that, I’m having a hard time seeing the lighter side this week.

Our local news has been headlined by two dreadful stories – the accidental death of two bright and talented high school seniors, out for a day at the beach with friends also engaged in good works, and the trial surrounding the tragic and unspeakable death of a young girl at the hands of her mother. In both cases, the details are heartbreaking and, in one, they are simply unfathomable.

I thought it important to take a moment away from trying to think of clever and witty little stories about my family life, and to focus some serious attention at how fortunate I am, and most of us are, in the lives we lead and the families we have.

If you are like me, you are not living the life you planned to live. It was all very clear to me at one time. I would go to Europe, first walking from London to the northern tip of Scotland and then following the seasons, picking fruit on the continent to support an extended stay. College would follow, probably studying political science or foreign relations in order to pursue a career in government – something with the State Department at first, and then running for office. After the Senate, the presidency, at least an attempt, followed by something with the United Nations. A fabulous apartment, a vast and expensive wardrobe and perhaps a Jaguar rounded out the picture. At some point I moved on to the idea of a life of travel, research and writing. And, finally, I’ve come to realize that my life is not some plan for the future, some distant idea of what I will one day do, my life is here and now.

In that life there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t look at my painted wood floors and realize how much they could use refinishing. I’m also keenly aware that every bit of white woodwork in the house needs its’ semi-annual touch up. Then there’s the perennial problem of the one tiny, albeit charming, bathroom that serves my family of ten. Later in the day, usually just after the mail has come, the question of how to make one income stretch to cover our growing expenses comes up. The bills arrive, sometimes more than a little past due, and the ever increasing letters from colleges addressed to my older children remind me of the vast sums of money that I haven’t saved for my children’s college education.

People have often asked, certainly rhetorically, “how do you do it?!” Well, I’ll tell you… I’m coming out of the closet - it’s a lot of work. It’s sometimes incredibly hard and exhausting work at that. Some days I feel unequal to the task. And, despite my frequent lighthearted answer of, “Well, you just do it”, it can be a bit more complicated than that. There’s the frequent financial juggling that goes on – what bill can wait so you can pay for the school trip of the week. And there’s the endless question of whether you are giving your children everything they need (I am always sure that the answer is a resounding “no”.). In short, there’s not a day that goes by without some time spent worrying about something or someone.

Now, before you think I’m writing a sob story about the woes of parenthood, let me set the record straight. I wouldn’t trade this life for anything. If I stop and give it a moment’s thought, I couldn’t be happier. The things that I’ve listed above make little difference and, one day, my endless economic challenges and petty household concerns will mean absolutely nothing. Besides, anyone reading this will probably be able to relate to every obstacle I’ve listed, and perhaps many more that I haven’t.

You see, just this evening, so many things have happened in my home that make me so glad to be where I am now, at this very moment. I made cookies with my seven year old son, a boy whose love of food is matched only by his love of jumping around the house, singing and dancing to Jack Johnson’s soundtrack from the Curious George movie. He also happens to tell me that he loves me every day, usually more than once, and will do anything to make me laugh.

I also spent part of my afternoon alone with my five year old son, looking through a local thrift store for some fun little toy that would keep his attention for an hour or two. Rather than find a toy, he found a rocking chair, perfectly sized just for him, that he spent a good hour sitting in, next to me, as he held his three month old brother. This particular son also tells me, repeatedly, that I am, “so cool”. He falls asleep next to me each night after wrapping his arms around my neck and telling me how much he loves me.

There’s also my ten and eleven year old boys, who would choose to spend time playing games, bowling or just watching television with me over any other activity. Not just great sons, but truly good friends, something I feel about each of my children. My fourteen year old son who, as I was sick and taking a nap the other day, gave me a hug and told me that he loved me. And, last but certainly not least, my fifteen year old son and seventeen year old daughter who try so hard to please and impress my wife and me, and who live lives so exemplary that I can look up to and admire them.

All of this is held together by my wife, the one person who understands, accepts and encourages me in everything I do. It would be impossible to write a coherent paragraph about my feelings toward her, so I won’t even try.

When I think of those two sad stories filling our newspapers, I feel so much sympathy for the parents in one case, and the poor child in the other. The one will be robbed of the love of their sons, and the other was robbed of the love of a family. At the same time, I feel an incredible surge of gratitude for the life that I have, and a huge desire to gather my family around me, not for any particular purpose, but simply to bask in the warmth, love and companionship that we all share.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Honesty Can Be Highly Overrated...

Sometimes, honesty is just not the best policy. We all know, or should know, that our spouses never look fat, no matter how tight that dress may fit, or how snug the back of that suit jacket may be. There’s no entirely safe way to answer that question, “Honey, do I look fat?”, but there are some choices that are better than others.

The same is true of other spousal questions, such as, “Darling, do you notice anything different?” The pitfalls here are too numerous to mention. To say “no” indicates a general lack of awareness or interest in the appearance, health or well-being of said spouse, but what if the answer is really, “yes” and the thing you notice isn’t at all flattering? Evasion is the key here, or at least some very well-chosen words.

My real beef isn’t even with spousal truth seeking at all. In fact, just having written the above will probably give rise to some questions when my wife reads this, but I digress. My real point here is that there are just certain things that you shouldn’t say to people, and some of them are patently obvious.

Take my recent visit to the local optical shop. First, notice that your new pair of glasses are no longer “ready in one hour!” Now, they are “ready in about an hour*…” No one mentions that the “about” in that phrase could add days to your wait, and there is no explanation about that asterisk at all, which probably has something to do with the fact that your glasses require parts to be sent from somewhere in rural Wisconsin.

I’ve had the same boring style of glasses for years. They do nothing to artistically frame my eyes and they don’t particularly show off the arch of my perfectly formed eyebrow. After considering several colors, styles and shapes, I landed on two that seemed suitable. The first was simple and much like my past selections, the second was what you might call a Cary Grant style of frame. I know that there’s a fine line between the effortless panache of Cary and the head of the high school A/V club, but I live in hope that I can carry off the former and not succumb to the latter. Well, that hope has been forever extinguished.

As I sat down before the very peppy, reluctantly middle-aged optician, complete with official lab coat and eyeglasses that could have landed her a spot on the Republican presidential ticket, she took my little eyeglass bin and proceeded to “fit” me. The first pair didn’t elicit much of a response. Probably a good sign. The second, however, ruined all hopes of suavity that remained. “I just thought I’d try these Cary Grant glasses,” I said, trying to give a hint at what I was going for. Although my reflection didn’t even fully convince me, I didn’t need Sarah Palin’s opinion. “No! You look just like Drew Carey!”

Drew Carey? As in the plump, moon-faced, crew cut wearing comedian? Drew Carey?! Ugh.
Seeing my disappointment, “Sarah” was quick to add a little too dreamily, “Oh, but I just love Drew Carey…”

So, you see, sometimes it’s wise to think before we speak, and definitely before we speak too honestly. Think of the sales we could make and the joy we could spread if we just took a hint or two. “Oh yes, Mr. Gariepy! You look just like Mr. Grant!” Deal cinched… “I’ll take ten pairs!” But no, it couldn’t be that easy. Mr. Carey took his business elsewhere. And I didn’t even mention Cary this time.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Such Blessings!

As the father of so many children, there are things said to me that most other parents might not hear. For example, on telling my mostly aged clients that I have seven boys and a girl, the men can rarely resist that hilarious question – “Haven’t you figured out what causes that yet?!?!” Ha ha ha ha! Hadn’t heard that one before, Wilbur! I wonder what Wilbur’s response would be if I were to respond, “No, I haven’t. Can you explain it to me?” Somehow, I imagine that Wilbur might be less interested in enlightening me – at least I hope so.

One also can’t overlook the oft-repeated declaration, nearly always by the darling, blue-haired ladies who’ve obviously forgotten what it’s like to visit the grocery store accompanied by any number of children, let alone seven – “Oh look! You have all your little helpers with you!” Lady, you and your blue rinse better get out of my way before I run you down with my shopping cart. So far, my little “helpers” have broken a family-sized jar of spaghetti sauce on aisle five, shoplifted three packs of gum and… I don’t even know where two of them are.

I can’t forget, as hard as I try too, the obviously deluded woman who followed me from aisle to aisle at the local Walmart. Passing her on the freezer aisle I was able to overhear her tell another passerby, “Now there’s a real dad!” Well, that was rather nice, I thought. I’ll stop trying to run down my six year old now. He really isn’t being that annoying with that giant Dora the Explorer ball he’s bouncing. On the next aisle, I was less convinced by her breathless, “Aren’t they precious!” Finally, in our third encounter she stopped me and asked, “Do you know what the Bible says about children?” “Uh, not exactly. I guess God likes them?” “It says that they are the arrows in God’s quiver!”, she said tremulously, looking heavenward. It was only then that I really noticed that one of her eyes was looking the other way.

As my wife knows, almost entirely through vicarious experience, shopping with the kids is a chore to be avoided. Therefore, she avoids it. The problems with this are many, though. First, because there are so many of them, trips to the store are frequent. Since our refrigerator only holds eight gallons of milk, we have to head back at least once every couple of days. And then, after spending the equivalent of a small country’s annual defense budget, once three days have passed, there is, as my daughter will moodily inform me, “Nothing to eat!” And, naturally, she is STARVING. There is the option of going to the store after they’ve all gone to sleep, but the prospect of going to a 24-hour grocery store at 2 am is less than exciting. So, I continue to do it. Me, the kids and the grocery store.

Finally, yes, as I am reminded almost as often as I hear the line about my little helpers, children are such blessings! I would suggest, however, that the next time you share this little bit of inspiration with someone, you choose a different time and place. About to spend half my monthly income to feed the screaming infant climbing out of my cart and his seven surly siblings – I’m going to find it hard to believe you could possibly be serious.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Poem for George

For some reason, I've been feeling awfully poetic this year. So, here's another little rhyme for your reading enjoyment...

Once upon a time,
In the town of Eugene,
Lived the cutest darn boy
You ever had seen.

This boy was named Georgie,
And most of the time,
His face was angelic,
Pure and quite fine.

But once in awhile,
When the mood so struck,
Georgie could barrel through life
Like a truck.

He’d cry and he’d whine and
He’d make such a fuss,
That his mommy would say,
“Oh, Georgie, do hush!”

"But ice cream and brownies
And chocolate I want!"
Hollered Georgie, the angel,
A right little punk.

Victoria said, “No!
You mustn’t give in!”
And Nick said, “If you do
He’ll do it again.”

So daddy got up and
Looked at his boy,
And thought in his head,
“Silence would be such a joy.”

But to spoil little Georgie
Would be such a crime,
Even though he still did it,
All of the time.

He opened the cookie jar
And searched through the fridge
And decided a treat wouldn’t
Hurt him a smidge.

He’d already eaten breakfast:
Some Cookie Crisp and some pop,
And needed his strength
For the candy shoppe.

So daddy scooped some ice cream
And pulled out a spoon,
And gave it to Georgie,
Who started to swoon.

“Oh daddy, oh daddy,
I do love you so much!
Now how about a big bowl
Of sweet Captain Crunch!”

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Mullets, Mullets Everywhere!

I can only think of one reason that God or, more likely, some hairstylist in rural Mississippi, created the mullet. It had to be for the sheer hilarity of it. If you’re ever having a really horrible day, Google “mullet” and look at the images that fill your computer screen. If you don’t experience immediate projectile laughter, check your pulse. The fun can be compounded if you have a photo editing program. Put a mullet on your friends, family, enemies, celebrities - the list is endless – and you will reach a state of hilarious nirvana. I fully realize that this will expose my sometimes juvenile sense of humor, but there are times when a mindless and hearty laugh is preferable to cerebral wit.

For all the obvious drawbacks that the mullet has as a hairstyle, it remains strangely popular among some. Today, walking through the local Target, I saw a sight so tragic, that it seems almost wrong to write about it. A well-dressed, upper middle-aged woman was walking with her son. The mother was very attentive and kind, and seemed to care deeply for the boy. While this might have been a touching sight – the devotion of a mother to her son – the fact that the boy had a very pronounced mullet kind of ruined it. Why, I asked myself, would a woman do that to her son? If that’s not cruelty, I’m not sure what is.

I once went to church with a woman who was also blessed with a mullet of impressive proportions. Her shiny red hair was carefully coiffed – curled and sprayed in high-piled splendor on the top of her head. It was the long, straight, rather stringy, tendrils of hair falling down her ample back that just didn’t seem to work. I’ve often wondered at those hairdos that seem so carefully styled on top and front, only to have forgotten the sides or back. Flash back to the late seventies and early eighties. Imagine hair, carefully parted in the middle and flamboyantly feathered on each side. This look was most likely achieved through the use of the very large pink comb with its handle sticking out of the back pocket of the wearer’s too tight jeans.

Hair is important and, often, problematic. My own is always disappointing. When it’s too short I am told, often by my loving daughter and devoted mother, that it makes me look like a “pinhead”. When it gets too long I look like a big-haired televangelist who might have graced morning TV in the early ‘90s, tearfully admitting to his poor judgment in having an “inappropriate relationship” the church secretary .

Our family’s most recent hair crisis occurred when I took two of my sons to the local discount hair salon. You must understand that these boys are, at least in appearance, adorable. After Sasha (we’ll call her Sasha - it was the name on her tag) got through with them, they looked like little, well, nerds. Their bangs were so short that it looked like their foreheads had doubled in size over the past thirty minutes. The sides and back were no better. Although longer than the top (a mini mullet in the making), little clumps of hair peaked over their ears.

Few things can make one look better than a really good haircut. And few things can do more to damage your appearance, and maybe your reputation, than a really bad haircut. All you have to do to prove this point is think of the last person you saw wearing a mullet. I rest my case.